Tyler Cassity bought the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in 1998 with his brother Brent. Young, gay, and good-looking, Cassity can’t help but inspire comparison to David Fisher of Six Feet Under. Cassity has been a consultant for the show, which he insists, was not based on him. Together, Cassity and his brother are attempting to revolutionize the death industry with video memorials and various other innovations including the green funeral, which, at his suggestion, was used as the method of interment for Nate Fisher. This week’s issue of The New Yorker features an article about Cassity, modernizing the death industry, and green funerals. Their website has an “online only” Q&A with the article’s author.
I met Cassity a few years ago when I was writing an article about Hollywood Forever. Tyler told me that even though his family had been in the funeral business for years, he had no interest in it until AIDS began taking a huge toll on the gay community. At that time he was living in New York. He said, “I don’t think I ever actually had sex without thinking of death in those first years when I was coming out, and getting Outweek and reading that someone my age had a 50% chance. In the era we grew up in, there was always a fascination with death, a fixation on death, and it hasn’t been bad for years, but especially when I was coming of age there was a fixation on – am I dying, will I die?”
His idea for video memorials and more modern innovations came through seeing the unconventional ways gay men memorialized their loved ones: “I think seeing the way different services took shape, seeing how some people wanted to have their friends perform, and some people put it in their will just to go to their favorite nightclub. It kind of broke the form, not just the standard get the clergy up there.”
Working for Hollywood Forever are a phalanx of editors, producers, and documentarians who create a living memorial of the deceased’s life through film, pictures, and digital media that is on permanent view to the public in a video archive at the cemetery. It’s a fascinating place to visit if you’re ever in Los Angeles.
California Dying [the new yorker]